Addressing the Unintended Consequences of Social Media

Addressing the Unintended Consequences of Social Media

Join Us at Our Upcoming: Educator’s Forum on Social Media’s Impact on our Students

In the early 2000s, social media platforms represented new and emerging technological advances that promised to provide news, information and entertainment at the touch of a button. Digital access was touted as the way of the future; presenting tools that would allow us to find and reconnect with lost friends and acquaintances, learn through do-it-yourself videos on any topic imaginable and seamlessly communicate and market products and services all over the world at virtually no cost.

However, as with any new creation and its abundance of positive attributes, there are many unintended consequences that accompany these ingenious innovations. While we can all point to the advantages of social and digital media, we are now beginning to realize the negatives aspects of this technology. As we continue to find ever more nimble ways to enhance these platforms, we must be mindful that these tools are also being utilized as weapons that are producing heartbreaking outcomes. Issues stemming from cyber bullying, hate speech, online predation, hacking, internet-addictions, and disinformation online are just a few of the devastating side effects of 24/7/265 connectivity. 

The crisis continues to vex parents, school leaders and policy makers alike. Today’s students are being raised as “digital natives.” In other words, they do not know of a world where these tools and devices did not exist. Technology has been an important part of the lives of both the millennial generation and now the so-called generation Z (born after 2004). Since the inception of platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, there has been a significant rise in heretofore unintended consequences such as bullying behaviors, youth suicides, frauds and scams, the destruction of reputations,  and a near total breakdown in personal security; to name a few. 

To add insult to injury, former Facebook executives now admit that they were aware that the platform could be weaponized in the ways that are now becoming apparent. In a CBS interview, former Facebook executive in charge of user growth, Chamath Palihapitiya said that, “we knew something bad could happen,” and the fact is that you are being programmed. 

“We have created a tool that is ripping away the social fabric of how society works,” Palihapitiya said. “Kids need a hard break from some of these tools. The dopamine, feedback loops are addictive and results in misinformation, less cooperation and no civil discourse. We have opened the door for bad actors to manipulate large swaths of people to do whatever they want.”

In a 2018 Good Morning America interview, Facebook’s first president, Sean Parker, also admitted that the goal was to get people hooked on the platform. 

“The site was built to intentionally hook people,” Parker said. “The goal was to consume as much of your time and attention as possible. The social validation feedback loop is designed to exploit vulnerabilities in human psychology. We understood this consciously and we did it anyway.”

With virtual reality and artificial intelligence now thoroughly integrated into the global economic mainstream, the larger question becomes, how do we as parents and educators address the growing issues presented by this advancing technology? As an educator, we have become accustomed to hearing the familiar and inevitable refrain – So what are the schools doing about it?” 

Whether that responsibility may appear initially misplaced, it is what we educators do – we endeavor to address the social issues of the time in which we find ourselves. Not only are we responsible for ensuring a world class education for each and every child who walks through the schoolhouse door, we keep them safe and secure while helping them make adequate academic progress as they matriculate through our institutions and tend to their social, emotional and psychological needs while in our care. The phrase “in loco parentis” means in place of the parent. Every teacher recognizes and accepts this responsibility when they sign their teaching contract each year. 

Therefore, it seems only fair to provide school and educators with the tools, resources and training needed to confront the problem head on.  We do not retreat from the reality of social media’s influence on our students but if educators are being called upon to address the problems, policy makers and those who allocate financial and human resources must also recognize and live up to the part they play in delivering the resources needed to meet the challenges. 

School systems must no longer operate in silos. There is an urgent need for a coordinated approach to addressing the issue of social media and its long term affects. Therefore, on September 20, 2019 the Denver Urban Spectrum in cooperation with Vertex Learning, LLC and its community based partners will host a day-long Forum on Social Media’s Impact on our Students. The event will be held at the Cleo Parker Robinson Theatre at 119 W. Park Ave from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Invited guests include Sen. Michael Bennet who will discuss his proposed bipartisan, bicameral legislation to study and research Social Media’s Impact on Student Cognition, Mayor Michael Hancock, Governor Jared Polis, all Colorado School Superintendents, Principals, State and Local Policy Makers, Community Partners, School Board Members, Parents and Student Leaders. 

The event is free and will feature discussion and break-out sessions designed to build capacity towards solutions to the problems confronting our students along with viable tools designed to help address the issues from a curricular vantage point. Space is limited so please RSVP by email editor@urbanspectrum.net or call 303-292-6446.

Editor's note: Alfonzo Porter is the author of Digital Citizenship: Promoting Wellness for Thriving in a Connected World. It is a textbook designed for secondary students and aligned with learning outcomes of the Society for Health and Physical Education (SHAPE). It is curriculum that focuses on the social, emotional and mental health and well-being of students as they seek to navigate life in a cyber reality. Porter is also the Editor-in-Chief of the Denver Urban Spectrum and a Journalism Professor at MSU-Denver.


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